All for the Monet

The trail of a $6 million art heist in France ends in suburban South Florida.

Peraza likes to point out that as crime is globalizing, law enforcement is globalizing too. And what it came down to in the Nice case was capitalizing on the thieves' haste to get the transaction done.

"There's a transition everyone goes through, even in the noncriminal world," Peraza says. "You're expecting to sell your house. Someone comes by. First you're skeptical. Then they come a second time, and you're less skeptical. There comes a time when you're done thinking about that transaction and you're thinking about what you can spend that money on."

Peraza says Ternus is just an opportunist who got a phone call he couldn't resist. "He isn't a smart guy," Peraza says. "But he isn't stupid. This is a man who has periods in his life that are legit, but it's never enough. These criminals asked him if he could sell the paintings. Sometimes it's about answering the wrong phone call. When you swim in that element, from time to time, you will be drawn into one scheme or another. These are the offers you're gonna get. But why did he get that phone call? You're not gonna get that phone call. I'm not gonna get that phone call."

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio

In federal court six days after his arrest, Ternus pleads guilty to conspiracy to transfer stolen property and visa fraud. Through a court translator, Ternus tells Judge Patricia A. Seitz: "I am pleading guilty because I am guilty."

On September 24, 2008, 13 months after the robbery in Nice, Seitz sentences Ternus to five years in prison. He's incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. He did not respond to letters from New Times written to him in English and French.

Ternus's wife, who still lives in Cooper City, did not comment. A neighbor called the whole affair "a family tragedy that has separated children from their father."

Agents who have interviewed Ternus say he doesn't want to go back to France — he knows there's a group of dangerous criminals who are very angry at him for introducing them to the end of their careers. Oddly enough, Peraza says Ternus told him his biggest regret in all of this is the fact that he won't become a U.S. citizen. "He really does love this country," Peraza says.

Richard Birkenwald, Ternus's attorney, says he expects someone will eventually make a movie about his client. He even has a title suggestion: The Ternus Affair. He believes Ternus will soon be deported to France and will most likely face a longer sentence on charges stemming from the initial armed robbery.

Birkenwald says an old psychological experiment serves as a good metaphor for Ternus's story. It's an optical illusion first documented in 1926: A subject is shown a frame with two black dots — dot A and dot B. The subject is quickly shown a second slide in which dot A is on the other side of dot B. Most people believe they either saw dot A move around dot B or saw both dots move together.

"It's interesting to think about," the attorney says, "especially in a case about a man who appeared to be moving something from one side of the ocean to the other."

The truth is, there is no movement. It's just the way the human brain perceives those images. This perception of movement is named after a Gestalt psychologist.

It's called "The Ternus Effect."

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